The Scary Reason You Never Want To Hear This Chime Mid-Flight, According To A Flight Attendant

Whether on a quick domestic journey or the world's longest nonstop flight, you'll hear many sounds on the plane. If you fear flying, you may desperately try to tune out these sounds with noise-canceling headphones or anxiously tune in to every buzz, whir, and ding you hear; one viral TikTok video from flight attendant Tommy Cimato helpfully explained what a lot of those common chimes mean. Those passengers encounter most often typically signal standard aspects of running a flight and thus provide no reason to worry. However, one comment Cimato made has been widely shared and reported: three chimes in a row indicate a problem on the plane.


"If you hear three of those, that means it's an emergency," Cimato says in his video regarding "high/low chimes" before assuring viewers that this likely will never happen. But should hearing three chimes on your flight always be cause for concern? As much as we never want to learn of a problem onboard, you don't need to start reaching for your oxygen mask yet.

Three chimes may indicate turbulence or an emergency

The flight crew communicates using chimes, dings, and tones. As stated in the now-viral video, the captain may use three chimes to signal to his crew that an urgent situation has unfolded. As former captain John Cox shared through USA Today, this could indicate serious turbulence ahead.


While often terrifying, turbulence doesn't mean you should expect an emergency landing in the near future. "You're virtually guaranteed to be safe," turbulence researcher and professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading Paul Williams assured NPR. He emphasized that turbulence rarely reaches the level of severity needed to cause injuries. So, even if the three chimes serve as a turbulence warning to the crew, you'll likely emerge from the flight unscathed. Keep your seat belt buckled to reduce your odds of harm further.

Cox also indicated that three chimes could be used to alert flight attendants that someone on the plane has a medical emergency. Depending on the severity of the situation, the flight might have to change course to get that person the help they need. However, this doesn't mean that you're in any danger. In some cases, you may never find out exactly why the three chimes sounded, but that's likely because it isn't the kind of emergency that will cause you problems; it's just something the flight attendants need to be aware of.


Chimes don't always mean the same thing

A single chime is probably the most common noise on an airplane. It can indicate that someone has called for a flight attendant (if misused, this annoying behavior may lead to the crew ignoring you) or that the captain has turned the seatbelt sign on or off. Both of these occurrences will happen often when you fly. Just like one chime can communicate different messages, it's important to remember that three chimes don't necessarily mean that a dangerous situation has unfolded, such as a door suddenly flying off a plane.


Though Tommy Cimato's airline uses three tones to indicate an emergency, this protocol doesn't apply to all companies. According to one employee on Reddit, Delta utilizes three tones in a row to call the purser, a.k.a. the chief flight attendant. Precisely what each combination of sounds means varies from airline to airline. While some, like United Airlines, have no problem reassuring people about what those chimes mean, many other major companies, like American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have chosen to keep this information private.